Is the end near for Indy Car?

I still chuckle when I remember all the hoopla that surrounded the “unification” of the IRL and Champ Car a year ago.  Why Indy-type racing had been saved and the bloody war, which should never have happened, was over.  It was to be all blue skies from then on. Nothing was farther from the truth then and now.

The masterminds (now that’s a misnomer!) who run Indy Car have no plan that is visible to anyone with half a brain how they are going to bring the series out of the ashes.

First, a television deal with Versus, a cable outlet that most Americans do not get unless they pay for additional channels, was asinine.  All one has to do is ask NHL players or fans since that league put a lot of their games on the channel including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now Versus is telling Direct TV that it wants more money from them to carry the IndyCar Series and Direct TV is threatening to drop the channel.  If that happens, even fewer people get the telecasts. (Oh, if you didn’t know, Versus is owned by cable giant Comcast!)

Second, how does a domestic U.S.A. race not get a green flag until almost 10PM ET on a Saturday night?  That’s what happened for the Chicagoland race this past Saturday.  I went to bed around halfway as I’m sure most of those that were watching (all six of us) did.

Was there a big bull riding event Versus needed to carry earlier that pushed IndyCar back into the twilight zone?  Oh, did I mention, there was no Nascar race to battle on Saturday afternoon?

Let’s look at the wonderful 2010 IndyCar schedule.

Having not learned from the mistakes of CART, IndyCar starts the campaign in BRAZIL!  Now don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting Brazil with CART but it does nothing for the sponsors of the IndyCar teams and doesn’t help television ratings.

The only reason IndyCar is going to Brazil, is that they’ve been promised a big pay day.  I just hope they get the money upfront as there is a history of non-payment from Brazilian events.

You’d think Indy Car would try and build on the momentum of the only event they have that the general public cares about the Indianapolis 500.  However, the series holds only two races in the entire month of June following Indy!

Let’s go to the end of the 2010 season.  The final three races are all separated by two weeks..and the middle one of the three is in JAPAN! Wow that should build momentum into what is billed as the championship showdown at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Another thing that IndyCar lacks, any promotion of its drivers.  I know who the drivers are but the general racing public has no clue who Ryan Hunter-Reay, Hideki Mutoh, Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter, Robert Doornbos, and even Ryan Briscoe are.  The league does very little in building up the drivers.

It all comes down to leadership and there really hasn’t been any in any type of IndyCar racing for at least 15 years and if it doesn’t happen soon, this series will die.  Without the financial aid that Tony George was giving small teams to keep them afloat the last 14 years, the end is nearer than any of us would like to believe.

It would not shock me at all if Nascar at some point took over the IRL and added it to its property list. SMI the company owned by Bruton Smiths that features tracks such as Lowes, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Bristol, New Hampshire, and Infineon raceways could also be a buyer.

Would that save IndyCar?  Possibly, but at what cost?  That to me would be the big question.

Unless quality and definable leadership emerges in Indianapolis for the IRL in the next 12 months, I see no hope of survival and that saddens me deeply.

Ramblings from Michigan

I had the best seat of anyone at Michigan International Speedway this past weekend.  That’s because I’m the track announcer there and my “
office” is directly above the start/finish line several stories up.  From there I can see the entire track and roughly 20 miles in any direction. What I saw out my window this weekend was some fantastic racing.

Saturday’s Carfax 250 Nationwide race was as exciting as it could get with Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch battling for the win when suddenly Brad Keselowski came out of nowhere to take the checkered flag.

I’ll be honest, I was loudly cheering Brad on to victory.  I couldn’t help myself.  I know Brad and his entire family since they are from the metro Detroit area and on top of that, they are great people.  It also made the kind of story you only dream about.  “Local kid holds off big names to win at home track.”

The little scuffle and words between Busch and Vickers post-race only added to the buzz that was created by the finish.  In my estimation, Busch had absolutely nothing to bitch about.  Vickers did move him to the bottom of the track, but wasn’t even close to running him into the grass.  Where Busch was on the main straightaway was exactly where many of the drivers went during qualifying. 

Sunday’s Carfax 400 was the usual fuel mileage affair but that didn’t lessen it’s excitement.  There was some outstanding racing during the day and I’ve never seen so many four-wide battles on the track as I did on Sunday.

I know it might not have been door handle to door handle for the finish, but the COT did seem to be racey and there was plenty of excitement throughout the field all day long.  Maybe it’s time for drivers to just shut up about the car and put their foot down as hard on the throttle as they can.

That brings me to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  He did have a great run on Sunday finishing third, but I’m not sure he would have without the cars in front of him having to go into fuel conservation mode.  Doesn’t really matter though, he earned his third place finish. My problem is what he said on Friday.

Junior came out saying Nascar needed to make changes to the COT now. While we all know there are things Nascar needs to do with the car, its not a desperate situation.  (Remember when we had to have the “Stimulus Bill” passed right now or the country was doomed!)

To me, it was Junior finding an excuse for running poorly.  I say that because 5 Hendrick cars with Hendrick engines and Hendrick engineering are in the top 12 in points.  (I count Stewart-Haas cars here as that’s the package they have.)

Obviously the car can do better than what Junior has been doing in it.  I’m beginning to wonder if somehow he’s gotten psyched out by the COT and just can’t adjust his style to today’s reality.  We’ll see if the Michigan finish changes his mindset.

All in all it was a great weekend of racing at Michigan and one that should get Nascar fans buzzing about two of the best races of the season.

Time to put the race fans in the stands first!

(Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images) For a second consecutive weekend, Nascar has had it’s Sprint Cup race rained out on Sunday and moved to Monday.  It’s true Nascar can’t control Mother Nature but they can control start times for races which are getting later and later to accommodate television.

(Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It use to be that Nascar Sprint Cup races started at either 12:30 or 1PM local time.  Now, they are pushing race starts until 3PM or later even at tracks that have no lights because television wants that west coast audience they might not have at 10AM Pacific time.

Now I’m not a rocket scientist but most summer storms happen mid-afternoon after the heat has bubbled up throughout the day.  Have a start at 3PM, you’ve got a pretty good chance of rain occurring.  If rain occurs that late in the day at a track with no lights, there’s not enough time usually for the rain to stop and the track to be dried to race.  That then moves the race to Monday and screws the paying racing fans who need to get back home to actually work so they can buy those tickets!

Sunday, the race at Watkins Glen wasn’t scheduled to start until after 2PM.  If it started at 12:30P..most of it would have been completed before rain came.

This coming weekend, the Nascar Nationwide race at Michigan on Saturday isn’t scheduled to start until 3:30PM.  Yes it’s only 125 laps, but if there’s rain..it’s takes two hours to dry the track..and you are looking at 5:30 at the earliest!  Sunday’s Cup race rolls about 2:15PM. Why?  Television!

Not only do all these late starts challenge Mother Nature, but also race fans who need to get home for those jobs mentioned earlier.  It’s not easy getting out of a Pocono, a Watkins Glen, or many other race tracks. Late starts mean the ticket buying fans are winding their way down roads in the dark, many of which they do not know.

Considering attendance is down across all Nascar events, shouldn’t the paying fan be priority number one in all aspects of a race weekend, including start time?  If not, there may come the day when it’s just not worth the effort and sacrifice for race fans to put their butts in the seats but instead just sit at home in front of the big plasma screen.

To re-phrase the old slogan from Ford, “Think Fans First!”

Good guys do finish first!

Brack through air I must admit, I’ve never really watched ESPN’s Summer X-Games more than a total of 15 minutes through the first 14 years of the event.  That changed this past Sunday as I watched Rally Cross in X-Games XV because Kenny Brack was racing.

Kenny hasn’t race competitively since coming back from very serious injuries and racing at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005. He was invited to race one of the specially prepared production-based Ford Fiestas by Swedish-based Olsbergs Motorsports Evolution who handled the cars and Ford Racing.  It turned into an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner first went out and set quick time in seeding time trials..and then used his smooth driving style along with a little luck to go all the way to the gold medal..beating out teammate and Motorcross star Tanner Faust in the semi-final and then defending 2008 champion Travis Pastrana in the finals.  All of this with no racing for 4 years and no experience in anything like Rally Cross in the X-games which included a jump!

Brack on car I’ve known the 43 year old Kenny Brack since he started racing Indy type cars in the mid 90’s and it did my heart good to see him jump on top of his Ford Fiesta and celebrate the victory.

Kenny is truly one of the nice guys in racing.  His sense of humor and smile always made him someone I enjoyed not only interviewing but also just talking with.  He also was one of the best drivers out on the track, competing with the top names in the world in CART and the IRL.

To me, what Kenny did at the X-games over the weekend was the biggest story in racing.  (Okay, there might be an argument for Ron Hornaday winning a 5th straight Nascar Camping World Truck Series race.) He went from being a driver coach to young aspiring racers to showing the Millenial and Gen Y crew that heavily populate all X-games competition that “old” guys still rule!  Take that you whipper snappers!